This Tuesday, House Republicans nearly unanimously adopted new rules for the 114th Congress (H. Res. 5) which set the stage for long-overdue Social Security reforms to protect disabled Americans and seniors from indiscriminate benefit cuts.
The new rule strengthens the integrity of Social Security’s separate trust funds (disability and retirement) by putting a procedural barrier in place to prevent lawmakers from raiding retirement funds to shore up the bleeding disability trust fund. Page 32 of H. Res. 5 adds a point of order against weakening either trust fund, unless the changes result in an overall improvement to Social Security’s combined trust funds.
This change sets the stage for comprehensive Social Security reform in the 114th Congress.
With the Social Security disability trust fund projected to run out of funds in 2016, President Obama’s Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew had suggested that Congress reallocate funds from the Social Security retirement trust fund to the disability one.
The problem is that such a reallocation not only would kick the can down the road on much-needed reforms to a fraud-ridden program that has expanded far beyond its original mission (it now encourages permanent dependence among the marginally disabled), it also would raid the retirement program—which faces an even deeper fiscal hole—of funds. As Rachel Greszler, senior analyst at the Heritage Foundation, wrote:
The [Social Security disability] program is crucial to millions of disabled individuals who cannot work and would face severe hardship or destitution without [disability] benefits. These beneficiaries’ well-being is threatened by inefficiencies and unintended growth in the [disability] program that are unnecessarily depleting its finances. The [disability] program must be reformed so that it can continue to provide for individuals who are truly unable to work, without subsidizing early retirement and long-term unemployment.
If lawmakers allowed the Social Security disability trust fund to run out of funds without reforms, disability beneficiaries would face an indiscriminate 19 percent cut which would lower the average benefit to below the federal poverty level.
Congress should act responsibly by adopting reforms that protect benefits for disabled Americans who need them, while attacking fraud and mismanagement. Congress also should adopt reforms that encourage a return to self-sufficiency among the marginally and temporarily disabled with a prospective period of disability, for example. Moreover, employer incentives to provide private disability insurance would help to provide benefits faster for those who become in need of them while emphasizing work accommodations over dependence.
The new House rule would protect the retirement trust fund from being used as a piggy bank to shore up the disability trust fund. By this action, the House sets the stage for comprehensive Social Security reform that protects disabled Americans and seniors from indiscriminate benefit cuts and recognizes a responsibility for stewardship of taxpayer dollars.